A coach’s eyes never lie.
What comes out of the mouth … well, sometimes that’s problematical. But the eyes? Not only do they see all, but they tell all.
Because that’s so, the sparkle in Warren coach Jason Ahonen’s eyes said it all as he watched Blue Devils players celebrate with their fans after earning a 4-1 victory over visiting Round Lake on Thursday to win the North Suburban Conference championship.
Warren (14-2-4) won the NSC Lake Division title at 6-0, and Round Lake (13-3-3; losses to Waukegan and Zion-Benton) won the NSC Prairie title at 6-0, and this game was for the big trophy and for an opportunity to file away another wonderful high school moment in the memory bank.
“This is why I coach,” said Ahonen, looking out over the joyous scene. “Not for the winning. But to see the kids, sharing their unbridled joy with teammates and classmates.”
It is, as the coach pointed, something you can’t get playing club soccer.
This matchup figure to be a tossup, but Warren had the better run of play throughout, and if the game had ended with score other than 4-1, it was more likely to have been 6-1 or 7-1 in Warren’s favor than 4-3 or a 4-4 draw.
The winning coach talked about how his team has been building toward this all season.
“The kids have bought in since Day 1 this summer,” Ahonen said. “This is a group of kids who put other things aside to make this season special,”
Warren has a tradition of excellence in the sport, having earned three trophies from the Final Four state tournament in the last decade.
That success has been a driving force for this group.
“Playing here is not easy,” Ahonen said. “With the history and legacy over the last decade to try and live up to … it’s hard.”
It requires all-out effort, which was the key to Thursday’s win.
Here’s how the scoring unfolded:
Warren’s Alex Fratila got the scoring started when he went top shelf with a rocket from just outside the top of the box to give Warren a 1-0 lead. Fratila’s added an assist when Chris Travis drilled home his perfect corner to make it 2-0 in the 47th minute.
Round Lake’s star junior Freddie Ramirez got away from Warren’s Joe Haight for one of the few times and converted from in close to cut the deficit to 2-1 in the 51st minute. Haight did yeoman defensive work on Ramirez, who now has 33 goals on the season. He shadowed him like it was a game of 1-on-1.
Warren put the game out of reach when Kevin Penarrieta-Campero and Richard Flores scored in the 65th and 66th minutes to make it 4-1.
“It’s been a journey,” said Ahonen of his team’s development from August to October. “It’s been up and down.”
And based on Thursday’s performance in front of a huge crowd, there’s a lot of upside still to come.